Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (13 – Himeji, Kobe)

See: Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 itinerary and intro

Day 13: January 30

In the morning, we took the shinkansen from Kyoto station to Himeji station. I had wanted to visit Himeji on my previous trip to Japan, but Himeji castle was under renovation (it has been quite common during every trip that something I want to visit is under renovation so it gets postponed for future trips!). Thankfully Himeji-jou (Himeji Castle) full re-opened in 2015. It is one of the country’s few original castles and considered one of, if not the most, beautiful. From the station, it is a 15-20 minute walk through the main city centre to the castle grounds.

The crowds at Himeji-jo are substantial and moves as a line into the castle. As with most castles, it is not so pleasant to shuffle up and down the narrow stairs inside in single file.

After visiting the castle, we walked back through the city centre to get lunch before returning to the train station. For lunch, we had simple oden lunch sets at Shusentei Nadakiku Kappatei, since local oden is a Himeji specialty.

We then took the shinkansen from Himeji station to Shin-Kobe station. It was also my first time in Kobe, where I only wanted to spend half a day to wander around and eat Kobe beef! We made our way down to the port area, stopping at a number of shrines along the way. It’s a really nice city and I can see why it’s considered one of the most “attractive” cities. That small taste of Kobe makes me want to visit again, especially to go up to Mt Rokko.

As mentioned, the prime reason for the stopping by Kobe was to have some Kobe beef! I decided against making specific reservations because it was difficult to pick somewhere early enough to get a reservation and the prices were mostly astronomical, especially after having the other expensive Michelin meal (and since I don’t like meat in the form of steak). We decided to just wing it. I think it ended up being a good decision because we didn’t want to go all out and decide it wasn’t worth it. We looked around a bit and settled on a moderately priced restaurant, Kobe Beef Kurosawa, with a range of cuts to choose from. It was empty the whole time, but it was an amazing meal and we were very happy with what we paid. We both had A5, and at a guess mine was sirloin and T’s was flank/bottom sirloin. They came in sets and ranged from ¥9,000-¥11,000 for 120-180g. I couldn’t imagine paying double or more. The meat was divine but it was too much meat for me, and even T thought it was hard to handle so much fatty meat by the end. A few bites would have been enough for me, hehe.

After dinner we went out to the other side of the harbour to see views of the city, then trekked all the way back to Shin-Kobe station to take the shinkansen back to Kyoto.

Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (Day 12 – Kyoto [Kinkaku-ji, Soujiki Nakahigashi])

See: Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 itinerary and intro

Day 12: January 29

This day was the worst weather all day. It rained nonstop and heavily. I changed our itinerary slightly (given the weather) and we visited Kinkaku-ji in the morning instead, which is one of the most iconic sights in Kyoto. It was my third visit and I’m still never sick of it, though it’s always ridiculously crowded! This is one of those sights where it’s absolutely worth making an effort in planning itineraries to avoid weekends/holidays and to be there at the start or end of the day.

We took a subway to Kitao-ji then a bus to Kinkaku-ji. On my way out of Kinkaku-ji, I saw an purchased my first goshuin-chou and two goshuin. It was all very emotional and I actually cried, LOL.

We didn’t really have any time to find food, especially as the area around Kinkaku-ji is pretty quiet. We had some nibbles (including dango, of course) from those tiny eateries that serve takeaway food and have some small ledges or seats inside/outside.

The rain was pretty rough by now, so we took a taxi to the Kyoto Imperial Palace (my first visit). Back then, access was only with guided tours that needed to be booked in advance, but it seems now entrance to the palace grounds is permitted without joining a guided tour.

To be honest I had never been in such heavy rain for so long. My knee-high boots were spattered with mud at least three quarters of its height. It was hard to pay attention to the tour guide or hear her over the rain and the large number of people in the group while being so miserably wet and cold, so I admit I wasn’t really present. I think we would have made better use of our time skipping it and doing something else indoors.

After the tour, we took a subway back to our hotel for a break to dry off and change clothes. T had to change shoes too because they were completely soaked through! Then we took another subway to Shijo to visit the Kit Kat Chocolatory in Daimaru but left empty-handed as there was nothing there we didn’t already have.

The main even of the day was dinner at Michelin-restaurant, Sojiki Nakahigashi. I wanted to book a meal at a Michelin restaurant in Japan as a surprise for T. Australia doesn’t use the Michelin system, so although I don’t think awards are a representation of the kind of food I enjoy, I thought it would be a cool experience since we love Japanese food. Although chef’s menus stress me out a bit (because I am not adventurous), T is very adventurous and open to new food experiences. I think I made my booking around 3 months in advance (usually that’s when bookings open for most restaurants, off the top of my head). I think this was my second or third preference from my Kyoto Michelin restaurant shortlist, but the others I rang first would not accept my booking (as I was calling from overseas). I know usually tourists would ask their hotel to make the booking for them, but I wanted to bypass the middle man/woman and risk of miscommunication to make sure I got the date, time and set menu I wanted. The staff at Sojiki Nakahigashi were very lovely and since I didn’t have a number they could contact me on for confirmation prior to the date, they just asked me to ring them the day before to confirm. I was able to use a pay phone in the hotel the night before to ring, but I wasn’t really knowledgeable about how much phone calls cost, so the first coins I entered rang out too quickly meaning I accidentally disconnected with the lady at the restaurant. That was pretty mortifying!

We picked our own cup from a selection of all unique ones.

Charcoal grill.

Cooking rice throughout the meal. When we were served rice towards the end of the meal, everyone got a share of the crispy rice.

I couldn’t drink the coffee because I didn’t drink coffee at this time. It was incredibly embarrassing.

Soujiki Nakahigashi serves kaiseki and I had opted for the most expensive omakase set, which was more courses than the fingers I have. Everyone is seated around the kitchen, where a surprisingly large number of people are situated, cooking (using an astounding array of methods of cooking for a small space) and serving. Nakahigashi Hisao, the owner and head chef, is VERY passionate about vegetables (particularly root and mountain vegetables, from my observation) which he picks fresh every morning in a field north of Kyoto. While certainly using a lot of technique, care and amazing produce, there is only so much wild mountain vegetable in its purest form (think unwashed) I can take. Some ingredients I simply couldn’t eat and I had to really make an effort to sneak them to T without being seen by anyone (not eating the food served to you is HIGHLY rude). T thought the food was good and it was a great experience though. One of the chefs was the designated English-speaker, and he would explain each of our dishes in English when placed in front of us. Nakahigashi himself was friendly to us and chatted in Japanese. Other diners appears to be regulars (and work colleagues) and they were all chatty with Nakahigashi too. I can’t remember how much the most expensive omakase set was in 2016 (current prices don’t look too familiar and I’m sure they’ve increased), but I want to say it was around the ¥20,000 mark per head, give or take ¥20,000. We also had sake. At the end, one of the ladies handed me a tiny piece of paper with the bill amount handwritten. I was also aware that they were cash-only so I had brought plenty of cash along.

At the end of the meal, they also called us a taxi and walked us to the car holding umbrellas for us.

Money Diary (Japan travel edition): #4 What we spent during 9 days in Japan (Tokyo and Tohoku region)

We spent about 9 full days in Japan (plus the morning of our flight out). This trip was significantly more in peak season that I am used to, as it coincided with the Tohoku region’s cherry blossom forecast. As always, we buy too many souvenirs from Japan.

We exchanged some cash beforehand at AU$1 : ¥78.5139. We withdrew cash in Japan to top up, from 7 Eleven ATMs, which were the second ATM I tried with our Citibank debit card (one of the two most popular debit cards in Australia for overseas ATMs). Mizuho Bank ATM quoted me ~8% worse value than 7 Eleven, which came out ~1% within the global market rate so I just relied on 7 Eleven ATMs from thereon, since they’re everywhere anyway.

All costs in ¥ or the exact AU$ charged (or both), for TWO PEOPLE.


Airfares – Royal Brunei Airlines: 2 x $739.31 = $1478.62
JR Tohoku pass (choose 5 days): (¥19,000 when purchased outside Japan, but realistically the travel agents will set the price themselves). 2 x $244 = $488
Data SIM for 30 days: 2 x $39 = $78
Hotel – The Knot Tokyo Shinjuku (3 nights): $545.41
Hotel – Hotel Vista Sendai (2 nights): $208.49
Hotel – Montein Hotel Kitakami (2 nights): ¥16,600 = $214.78
Hotel – Art Hotel Hirosaki City (1 night): ¥38,880
Hotel – Hotel Ryumeikan Tokyo (1 night): ¥23,000 = $294.23
(Total cashback for four hotels except Hirosaki = $46.36)
Tickets for Teamlab Borderless: 2 x ¥3,200 = ¥6,400 = $80.73

The hotel and price in Sendai is more typical of what I am used to in terms of excellent location, compact yet clean rooms and price. The Shinjuku hotel was excellent but a bit far from the station. I would trade the size of the room for better location in an instant, but April is peak season so I had to make do and pay a bit more than I am used to for Tokyo and slightly worse location. It wasn’t bad though, and I’d prefer this location in Shinjuku than to not be near Shinjuku. The Hirosaki hotel was right next to the station but absurdly expensive. Welcome to the sakura festival in one of the top sakura locations in Japan! It was the most stressful finding a hotel in Hirosaki. The city is not that big and populous. The hotels there are on the old side and not too tourist-friendly (difficult to find smoke-free hotels). I would not have considered this hotel given its ratings if it wasn’t the only non-smoking option left in the city. The price was still ouch though.

Some transport prices may not be exact as I noticed sometimes IC cards gave ¥1-5 discounts on actual actual fares. All fares were retrospectively calculated. I’ve tried to categorise souvenirs clearly as things we bought to bring back for ourselves or other people (although this gets muddy because we did bring lots of snacks from convenience stores back home for ourselves/others). We are used to doubling or tripling our luggage with shopping because we buy so much in Japan! I think our luggage weight at least doubled.

Day 1 (Tokyo and Takao-san) *JR Tohoku pass*
Narita Express to Shinjuku: covered with JR pass
Lunch (tempura soba and tendon at Tenya Tendon): ¥1,440
Vending machine (drink): ¥150
Train to Takao-san: covered with JR pass except one stop, 2 x ¥130 = ¥260
Cablecar roundtrip: 2 x ¥930 = ¥1860
Tickets for Monkey Park: 2 x ¥420 = ¥840
Goshuin: ¥300
Vending machine (drink): ¥170
Train to Shinjuku: covered with JR pass except one stop, 2 x ¥130 = ¥260
Dinner (skewers izakaya at Kushiyaki Bistro Fukumimi): ¥6,778
Drugstore (lip balm): ¥306
Convenience store (salad, fruit, snacks): ¥678
Total: ¥13,042

We started our time in Japan around midday by the time we’d got into the city from the airport and dropped off our luggage at the hotel. We had a quick lunch at a chain restaurant before heading off to Takaosan. I got my first goshuin of the trip and had to pick up a lip balm from the drugstore back in Shinjuku because I lost mine on the flight. Every night we go on a conbini crawl as I try to stock up on vegetables/fruit and T tries to eat as much ice cream and junk food as possible (not that I don’t also join the junk food party). Typically a non-snacker, he turns into a different person in Japan! The other category that I spend a lot in is goshuin (also here), which I will categorise separately.

Day 2 (Tokyo and Kamakura)
Vending machine (drink): ¥140
Train to Kamakura: 2 x ¥920 = ¥1840
Convenience store (onigiri): ¥120
Bakery (2 breads): ¥480 (?)
Taxi: ¥1000
Tickets for Hokokuji: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin: ¥300
New goshuin-chou + goshuin = ¥2200
Tickets for Hokai-ji: 2 x ¥200 = ¥400
Goshuin (3): 3 x ¥300 = ¥900
Sakura mochi: ¥200
Lunch (soba at Fukuyu Soba Bar): ¥1836
Tickets for Hase-dera: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin: ¥300
Tickets for Kotoku-in: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin: ¥300
Souvenirs (2 small face towels): ¥1200
Goshuin: ¥300
Vending machine (drink): ¥130
Train to Shinjuku: 2 x ¥920 = ¥1840
Reserving Narita Express for airport: 2 x ¥3210: ¥6440
Dinner (skewers izakaya at Yakitori Nanbantei): ¥7123
Souvenir (2 alcohols from Bic Camera): ¥2364
Drink (alcohol from Bic Camera): 2 x ¥110 = ¥220
Souvenir (T-shirt from Uniqlo): ¥1065
Souvenir (insulated Tiger drink mug from Bic Camera): ¥1998
Convenience store (snacks): ¥588
Convenience store (ice cream): ¥500 (?)
Total: ¥35,584

We started our day an hour later than I had hoped, so I decided we would take a taxi to the first site in Kamakura instead of walking to help make up some time. It is such a temple and shrine town that we had to not visit many temples and shrines (and not get goshuin) so we could actually complete the itinerary. We like walking everywhere and visiting ALL THE TEMPLES AND SHRINES so this one day ended up not being enough time for us, since shrines and temples can start closing around 4pm. We will need to revisit. For lunch we had Yamagata soba, which T loved but I didn’t. I got my second goshuin-chou (book) at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu because the book was so pretty and I only had a few pages left in my old book, so I bit the bullet. I later realised the book is slightly bigger and in retrospect I would have preferred all my books to be the same size. Goshuin at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu also cost a premium – ¥500. Back in Tokyo, we picked up some alcohol to bring back. I also picked up the Tiger mug that was on my shopping list (half the price of what it would cost me in Australia/online). I think we both discovered the Haagen Dazs crispy ice cream sandwiches that night – they’re amazing.

Day 3 (Tokyo)
Vending machine (drink): ¥140
Goshuin: ¥300
Lunch (okonomiyaki at Kotegaeshi Okonomiyaki): ¥2764
Goshuin: ¥300
Metro: 2 x ¥200 = ¥400
Souvenirs (2 plush toys and 1 toilet cover (LOL) from Pokemon Centre DX): ¥6900 (tax-free)
Metro and train: 2 x ¥500 = ¥1000
Dinner (tonkatsu at Tonkatsu Wako): ¥3150
Tickets for teamlab Borderless: pre-purchased
Train and metro: 2 x ¥580 = ¥1160
Convenience store (cake, ice cream, chips, drink): ¥667
Convenience store (Kit Kat, purin): ¥313
Convenience store (sweets): ¥103
Total: ¥17,197

We just wondered around for most of the day. I checked out like ten consignment stores and then we spontaneously decided to go to the Pokemon Centre DX in Nihonbashi before heading to Odaiba for an early dinner. I heard Borderless is least busy around dinnertime so I was aiming for 6pm. When we returned to our hotel, we went on a conbini crawl for snacks for that night and to eat on the shinkansen the next day.

Day 4 (Sendai) *JR Tohoku pass*
Convenience store (breads and onigiri): ¥386
Shinkansen to Sendai: covered with JR pass
Lunch (gyutan at Rikyu): ¥3564
Goshuin (2): 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Souvenirs (mug and tumbler from Starbucks): ¥4104
Dinner (izakaya at Aburiyajubey): ¥6166
Snack (?): ¥432
Snack (Hyotan-age): ¥250
Snack (shu-pie at Papa Beard): ¥170
Snack (mochi): ¥200
Snack (Hokkaido milk cake): ¥290
Coin laundry (wash then dry): ¥300 + ¥300 = ¥600
Convenience store (2 ice creams and bananas): ¥1002
Total: ¥17,764

We had the afternoon to wander around Sendai after checking in and trying gyutan (ox tongue) at the famous Sendai chain, Rikyu. I didn’t really like thick cut gyutan the way it’s done in Sendai, so we didn’t eat any more during our stay. I picked up the Sendai Starbucks mug in the new design (I absolutely prefer the old design for regional tumblers – the new series is kind of awful, but I’ve never been to Sendai so I can’t get the old ones anymore…) and the new Starbucks “Japan” mug because it’s so pretty. After dinner (our only bad meal for the whole trip), we ate a bunch of cool food in the train station and went back to do laundry at the hotel (with ice cream, of course).

Day 5 (Sendai and Matsushima)
Train to Matsushima: 2 x ¥410 = ¥820
Snack (curry bread at Pensee): ¥300
Matushima Bay ferry (with upgrade to green car): 2 x (1500 + 600) = ¥4200
Lunch (Seafood at Nanbuya): ¥5700
Tickets to Zuigan-ji: 2 x ¥700 = ¥1400
Goshuin: ¥300
Tickets to Entsu-in: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin: ¥300
Snack (fishpaste skewer): ¥200
Souvenir (grilled garlic): ¥540
Snack (regional sakuranbo Hi-CHEW): ¥150
Toll for crossing to Fukuua Island: 2 x ¥200 = ¥400
Train to Sendai: 2 x ¥410 = ¥820
Dinner (ramen at Misoichi): ¥2100
Souvenir (regional gyutan Pretz): ¥600
Souvenirs (amazake dango, 2 umeshu): ¥1016
Snack (sakura doughnut at Mister Donut): ¥129
Souvenir (lightning cable from Tokyu Hands): ¥1836
Souvenirs (stainless steel Tiger drink mug and soup/food mug from Yodobashi Camera): ¥4670
Convenience store (ice creams and fruit liqueur): ¥1030
Vending machine (drink): ¥110
Total: ¥27,221

I was informed by the Internet that upgrading to green/first class on the ferry of Matsushima Bay would be worth it as you are able to go outside on the deck. I found a Hi-CHEW I’d never seen before and T managed to sneak in a packet of grilled garlic because he is a garlic monster (the verdict is he wishes he brought back ten more packs…). Back in Sendai, we started getting serious about souvenir shopping. T says he got the lightning cable despite it being expensive because he has for years been particular about a certain cable length and will try any that he stumbles on in a quest to find a good quality one. I picked up a second Tiger mug and also a soup/food thermos even though I don’t need one (I prefer this one and have been using it though).

Day 6 (Sendai, Yamadera, Kitakami) *JR Tohoku pass*
Convenient store (2 breads and 2 onigiri): ¥493
Train to Yamadera: covered with JR pass
Goshuin (3): 3 x ¥300 = ¥900
Tickets for Yamadera: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin (8): 8 x ¥300 = ¥2400
Lunch (soba at Enzou): ¥2780
Souvenir (wooden plate): ¥700
Train to Sendai: covered with JR pass
Souvenirs (2 boxes of seafood senbei): ¥2376
Souvenir (lotion toner from Matsumoto Kiyoshi): ¥799
Souvenir (tamagoyaki pan from Tokyu Hands): ¥4622
Souvenir (T-shirt from Comme des Garcons): ¥7344
Dinner (tonkatsu at Saboten): ¥3881
Convenience store (drink): ¥129
Shinkansen to Kitakami: covered with JR pass
Shuttle bus to hotel: complementary
Convenience store (ice cream, purin, bananas, Starbucks coffee, onigiri, bananas): ¥1023
Total: ¥28,047

We got an absolute tonne of goshuin at Yamadera!!! I picked up a cute leaf-shaped wooden tray/plate made in Takaoka to hold trinkets in. We returned to Sendai for a few hours of speed shopping because we still hadn’t really made a dent in our souvenir shopping. We picked up these impressive seafood senbei for family and I finally decided on a tamagoyaki pan, which was on my shopping list. After arriving at our hotel in Kitakami, we immediately set out to find the nearest conbini!

Day 7 (Kitakami)
Laundry (wash then dry): ¥500
Goshuin (2): 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Lunch (takoyaki and yakisoba): ¥1070
Dinner (shabu shabu at Porco Blu): ¥6480
Convenience store (bread and drink): ¥491
Convenience store (onigiri, ice cream, drink, warabimochi): ¥558
Total: ¥9,699

We had a late start and also did laundry since it was raining heavily. The town was smaller and quieter than I expected and there was almost no option for lunch so we had a quick lunch in a tiny cafe that seated four people and the store-lady literally made one serve of food ready for customers. She actually couldn’t give me what I ordered because she didn’t have enough takoyaki, haha. We were able to enjoy one of the top cherry blossom spots in Tohoku all afternoon. After some difficulty finding somewhere for dinner, we ended up at a shabu shabu restaurant. It was super fancy and we had a huge private booth to ourselves. The food was great and we were stuffed! THat doesn’t mean we didn’t do a conbini crawl for more snacks and stuff to eat during transport the next morning.

Day 8 (Hirosaki) *JR Tohoku pass*
Shinkansen and train to Hirosaki: covered with JR pass
Bus: 2 x ¥100 = ¥200
Chicken skewers: ¥500
Squid skewer and pork skewer: ¥1100
Sanshoku dango: ¥200
Goshuin: ¥300
Tickets for Hirosaki castle: 2 x ¥310 = ¥620
Souvenir (Hirosaki castle postcards): ¥424
Bus: 2 x ¥100 = ¥200
Dinner (izakaya at Izakaya Tsugaru’s Liquor Worm Watami): ¥5108
Souvenirs (face cleansers, oil cleansers, face masks, mascara, lotion toner from a supermarket/drugstore): ¥19965
Convenience store (pickles, drink, ice cream, Hi-CHEW): ¥571
Total: ¥29,188

Hirosaki was crazy busy! We headed straight for the park and ate some overpriced (and not very good) skewers from the food stalls, and a not-quite-defrosted dango (I was terribly sad by this). We went into the Hirosaki Castle keep, which was priced unusually. I don’t think I’ve ever paid for a temple, shrine, castle, garden etc that wasn’t a denominator of 100 in Japan. We had a fantastic dinner at an izakaya, trying a bunch of local (Aomori) specialty cuisines. We definitely over-ordered and it was still so cheap! Since it was still early, I convinced T to go to Mega, which I saw was a huge drugstore/supermarket. I went to town on face masks (for myself and my Mum) and stocked up on longtime favourites that I usually pay two or three times more for. I only bought three or four of each item but I bought out the stock for each product! To end the night, I wanted pickles and T wanted ice cream, and while I was at it I also found a Hi-CHEW I’ve never seen before.

Day 9 (Hirosaki, Tokyo) *JR Tohoku pass*
Tickets for Saisho-in: 2 x ¥300 = ¥600
Goshuin: ¥300
Souvenir (2 alcohols): ¥1080
Bus: 2 x ¥100 = ¥200
Convenience store (2 breads): ¥273
Snack (hanami dango): ¥140
Convenience store (onigiri): ¥140
Lunch (2 ekiben): ¥1810
Vending machine (2 drinks): ¥320
Train and shinkansen to Tokyo: covered with JR pass
Souvenir (stovetop grill toaster from Tokyu Hands): ¥2462
Souvenirs (3 different packs of Tokyo Bananas): ¥2541
Souvenirs (6 different packs from Kit Kat Chocolatory): ¥4266
Dinner (Beer Hall): ¥3596
Convenience store (sweets): ¥103
Convenience store (lollies, chocolates, ice cream): ¥625
Total: ¥18,456

We walked around the city and visited over 20 or 30 temples. Sadly I was only able to get a goshuin at one major one. By the time it was midday, we were near Hirosaki Park again. We went to the visitor centre to use the bathroom but also left with two bottles of ringo-shu/apple liqueur (Aomori is famous for its apples). Back at the station, I found hanami dango that I was really craving after the terrible one from the previous day (it was divine!). We’d decided to have a late lunch on the shinkansen so we picked up two ekiben to share. Back in Tokyo at 6pm, we checked into our hotel and started a night of frantic shopping by 6:30pm. We had a lot of stores we needed to visit before they closed in a few hours. I found a stovetop grill toaster (on my shopping list) and T decided to pick up a box of Tokyo Banana to share at work and we got two small packs in different flavours for ourselves. We also visited the Kit Kat Chocolatory since T is serious about collecting his Japanese Kit Kats. The Chocolatory is incredibly premium these days. You can pay some $20 for small box of containing three small sticks of single origin volcanic something-or-another chocolates. That’s so different to a few years ago when the Chocolatory first started! He got some Kit Kats to share at work, and picked up three things that he didn’t already have. After a late dinner, we tried to run down our IC cards on snacks and ice cream so the balance would be closer to 0. I’ve kept my IC cards for many years (for subsequent trip) but I prefer to keep a minimal balance on them in case I lose them or they become nonfunctional.

Day 10 (airport day)
Convenience store (drink, bread, banana): ¥378
Convenience store (2 onigiri, Kit Kats): ¥400 (?)
Narita Express to airport: reserved and purchased on day 2
Souvenirs (2 tumblers from Starbucks): ¥3596
Souvenirs (2 eyeliners and 2 stockings from Matsumoto Kiyoshi): ¥3500 (tax-free)
Souvenirs (3 different packs of Kit kats): ¥3680 (tax-free)
Total: ¥11,556

We had a late morning flight and got up super early. On arriving at the airport, I popped into the Starbucks and found an airport exclusive tumbler, and the new series Hiroshima tumbler, which is incredibly beautiful and I couldn’t not have it! Once through customs, I finally found one of my favourite eyeliners at Matsukiyo. I saw the brand of stockings I’ve been buying on every Japan trip but they had different lines. I grabbed two to try as I figured they must not make my exact one anymore. Unfortunately we found more Kit Kats T didn’t have at another souvenir store and had to buy them (including the premium Tokyo Banana with Feuilletine Kit Kats!).

*JPY estimates are based on 1 AUD : 78.5 JPY for simplicity

Sightseeing is relatively cheap in Japan for exploring nature and temples/shrines. The majority of the sightseeing costs we had were the Matsushima ferry and Teamlab tickets. Once again, food was the real winner. Despite eating all the food and drinking every night, eating out and snacking only cost ~¥4500 or ~AU$58 per person per day. The real cost would probably be lower as we really didn’t need to eat that much convenience store junk food, and some of it might technically be “souvenirs” as I brought them home. Unsurprisingly, we spent a lot on goshuin and shopping/souvenirs – 18%! Here’s everything we hauled back… *hides*

Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (Day 10 & 11 – Kyoto [Fushimi Inari Taisha], Osaka, Hiroshima, Miyajima)

See: Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 itinerary and intro

Day 10: January 27

In the morning, we checked out and took an early (for us) shinkansen, leaving the island of Kyushu and heading to the main island of Honshu. We would be making out first pit stop in Kyoto. The shinkansen from Hakata station to Kyoto station was just over three hours via Shin-Kobe.

In Kyoto, we stayed at ibis Styles Kyoto Station, which is right across the road from Kyoto station (one of its entrances), so it was so convenient for all our day trips out of Kyoto. The hotel was actually really cheap and pretty good. After dropping off our bags, we headed back to Kyoto station and had kaiten-zushi/sushi train at Musashi Sushi.

Then we took a train to Inari station to visit Fushimi Inari-taisha/Fushimi Inari Shrine (my second time). We ate some takoyaki before starting the hike. At the start of the hike, there were huge crowds and a lot of congestion, but the number of people dropped drastically after just 15-20 minutes of walking and soon there are very few people. Most people do not seem to walk to the summit.

As I hadn’t planned much else for the rest of the day (planned free time!), we decided to go to Osaka for the evening since Kyoto is honestly a bit boring in terms of shopping and eating (especially at night) and Osaka is just as bustling as Tokyo. We took the train back to Kyoto station and then to Osaka station. We spent some time shopping and browsing souvenirs. T picked up some Japanese Kit Kat Chocolatory chocolates he hadn’t gotten on eBay yet. He was super happy. (We collect Japanese Kit Kats…)

We decided to eat at Kiji Okonomiyaki, an okonomiyaki restaurant that was (might still be) highly rate online. We ended up in some office building and a security man told me that I, like many others before me, was definitely in the wrong place. For some reason Google Maps had the wrong address or pinned it wrong? We had to head back in the opposite direction to the station and doubled our walk (it was really far). It was in the restaurant level of a building, and there was quite a line. We waited around 45 minutes. Unfortunately I cannot recommend this place at all! It’s over-hyped by tourists (there wasn’t a single Japanese person) who were probably all visiting the online top hit okonomiyaki restaurant and everyone just keeps reviewing and recommending it, even though it was a thoroughly below average. Not to say a restaurant can’t be good if it’s visited by lots of tourists, but this was more of a tourist trap and had probably lost its charm. Such a shame that we wasted the time and effort to eat there. Oh well, after that we learned our lesson and no longer read restaurant recommendations from Tripadvisor anymore since they’re mostly tourists’ reviews.

After dinner, we walked to the Umeda Sky Building‘s Floating Garden Observatory (second visit!). This is my favourite night-time observatory in Japan (unlikely to be beaten, I think), because it is open-air and just stunning with the glow-in-the-dark “starry sky” ground. It was a lot more packed than the previous time I visited, but it was still amazing!

We returned to Osaka station and headed back to Kyoto station and our hotel.

Day 11: January 28

Today we would be making a day trip (just like my previous Japan trip) to Miyajima via Hiroshima. We took the shinkansen from Kyoto station around 9am and arrived two hours later around 11am. We then took a train to Shin-Hakushima station to walk by Hiroshima castle and the Peace Memorial Park. We got some hot snacks and also picked up an umbrella from the a conbini since it was raining. Then we took the tram (50 minutes) to Miyajima-guchi station, where the ferries to Miyajima depart frequently on the 10-minute journey. There are two ferry companies and the JR pass covers the JR ferry.

Miyajima is an island near Hiroshima and is one of the Nihon senkei (three most scenic places in Japan) and is still one of my favourite places in Japan. It is important to check the tide forecast for the day, which can be looked up many months in advance (maybe even a year?), which I always do before planning the itinerary in order to try and find the best possible day(s) so the visit can coincide as best as possible with the high and low tide. The high and low tides allow you to enjoy the island’s iconic attractions in different ways. On this day, the low tide was at 5:45am and 6:20pm while the high tide was at 12:15pm. When the tide is below 100m, it is possible to walk up to the famous torii gate.

When we arrived on the island, it was already after midday. We quickly had some lunch and then visited Itsukushima-jinja/Itsukushima Shrine around 2:30pm when the tide was already receding drastically. Well, I knew the tide times so this wasn’t surprising. (On another note, I really REALLY wish I had remembered to start my goshuin collection here since getting my first book from Itsukushima-jinja would have been so special, BUT I FORGOT UNTIL THE NEXT DAY!)

Since it was drizzling all day, we didn’t visit Misen/Mt Misen because there wouldn’t be much to see. I had visited before though, and it is worth going! We wandered around the town, and I noticed that there were significantly less deer than three years ago. Compared to before, there also weren’t many visitors and a lot of stores were quiet or closed in the late afternoon, probably because of the weather and the time of year. We rested in a cafe and had some cake before walking out to the torii gate around 5pm when the tide was just low enough that it could be reached.

It was also dark now. We took the ferry back to the main island and a direct train back to Hiroshima station. We had some delicious Hiroshima okonomiyaki in the station, picked up some local snack souvenirs and took the shinkansen back to Kyoto station.

Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (Day 8 & 9 – Beppu, Fukuoka, Nagasaki)

See: Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 itinerary and intro

Day 8: January 25

In the morning, we checked out of the ryokan. We would be spending the day visiting the Beppu Jigoku/Hells and then returning the car. A brief introduction about the Beppu Hells taken from here:

Thermal mud and hot springs have been gushing tremendously from the ground for over 1,000 years. There are 8 jigokus in total at Beppu consisting of the cobalt blue ocean hell, ‘Umijigoku’, deep-red blood pond hell ‘Chi-no Ike Jigoku’ as well as ‘Oniishi Bozu Jigoku’ (Onishi Shaven Head Hell), ‘Yama Jigoku’ (Mountain Hell), ‘Kamado Jigoku’(Boiling Hell), ‘Oniyama Jigoku’ (Demon Mountain Hell), ‘Shiraike Hell’ (White Pond Hell) and ‘Tatsumaki Jigoku’ (Geyser Hell) . Its onsen eggs (eggs boiled in the hot spring) and ‘Jigoku Mushiyaki Pudding’ (Pudding steamed in the Hell) are popular for visitors.

We drove and did our own Jigoku Meguri/Tour of the Hells. We first drove to the Kannawa district, where the first six hells are all within walking distance of each other.

I think I need a cactus font!

For lunch, we did the novelty steam cooking. The experience was disappointing. The food goes in, you get a timer, and you return to collect. It’s also quite overpriced – you pay for the ingredients and also the time you want to steam. At some point we also tried the iconic steam-cooked purin (Japanese pudding), which tasted just like every other purin, so I can’t say I’m sold on all the steam cooking in Beppu. It’s mostly just a novelty.

After lunch, we visited the last two hells in the Shibaseki district.

At this point it was only early afternoon. The Beppu Hells are definitely easy to fit in to half a day or less. We filled up the car’s petrol and returned it (conveniently to Beppu station, and I did complain about the windscreen wiper). From Beppu station, we took the shinkansen two hours to Hakata station (Fukuoka), our last pit stop in Kyushu. Current-day Fukuoka is a fusion of Hakata and Fukuoka, hence a lot of things in Fukuoka have retained the Hakata name. We checked in to our hotel, Hakata Green Hotel No. 1, which was perfectly fine and nothing special.

We left in search of the yatai (food stalls) along the river on Nakasu Island in the city centre. Yatai are considered the symbol of Fukuoka, and of course we love Japanese street food. Sadly we were unable to find any yatai in the area though I had expected to see a scene of over twenty! It may have due to construction works or perhaps they don’t operate during cold and bad weather. We quickly had to come up with a new plan. Fukuoka is also really famous for their ramen – Hakata ramen. So of course it was important (T is a ramen aficionado) to try Hakata ramen in Hakata/Fukuoka. We decided to eat at Uma Uma. Then on the way home, T couldn’t resist trying some oden from the conbini. They were perfectly good, convenient and cheap oden.

Day 9: January 26

Where possible, I try to visit as many castles as possible (though it’s not a bucket list thing for me), so in the morning, we took a subway to Ohorikoen-mae station and walked to the Fukuoka-jou ato/Fukuoka Castle ruins. Unfortunately I hadn’t expected it to literally be just the remaining gate. There was no castle ruins besides that. It was a bit disappointing. We walked a little bit around Oohori-kouen/Ohori Park and then took the subway back to Hakata station. Since that had taken a lot less time than anticipated, I wanted to changed my reserved ticket to Nagasaki for earlier. I was told the reserved section was full though. I figured we’d just try and get a unreserved seat on an early express train.

For lunch, we ate at an Ippudo Ramen branch in the station. Since Ippudo or Hakata Ippudo originated in this city, it made sense to eat it in Fukuoka.

We managed to easily get ourselves a seat in the unreserved section of the train to Nagasaki, which took around two hours. From Nagasaki station, we took a tram to visit the Peace Memorial and Hypocenter Park. The city is set against mountainous scenery, which is really beautiful.

We walked back to Nagasaki station (we quite enjoy walking everywhere when we have time) and tried to find the bus to take us to Inasayama (Mt Inasa) to see the night view of the city. I wasn’t having much luck locating the bus so I went to ask at the tourist centre, but was told the mountain was closed that day! What terrible luck!!! So we took the train back to Hakata station, and a subway to Tenjin, the downtown area of Fukuoka. On the city streets, we stumbled across a couple of yatai, – yay! We chose one and enjoyed delicious oden and tempura. It was pretty fun with great atmosphere in such a tiny space.